FEATURE7 August 2023

Historian David Olusoga on questioning stories and rejecting ‘culture wars’

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David Olusoga has spent his working life shining a light on history to help us understand the world better. To challenge the stories we tell ourselves, he says, we must identify what is opinion, what is data, and look to the past for answers. By Katie McQuater.

photograph of David Olusoga

When historian, broadcaster and writer David Olusoga gave his inaugural lecture as professor of public history at the University of Manchester in 2019, he described himself as a ‘connective circuit’ between the worlds of academia and public history.

It seems a fitting term for someone who has dedicated his career to bringing the stories of history to a wide audience, through television programmes including Civilisations; Black and British: A Forgotten History; A House Through Time; and the BAFTA-winning Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners.

As we meet in a central London conference room, just before he takes to the stage for the closing keynote interview at the recent MRS annual conference, Insight Alchemy, Olusoga talks about how researchers can draw on emotive narratives effectively.

With the rise of generative artificial intelligence (AI) tools hitting the headlines, he thinks we would be ‘naïve’ not to look at the evolution of AI and algorithms and ‘not be nervous’, and points to the very human pursuit ...